The Meaning of “Mediatrix”

Q: Why does the Church feel justified in calling Mary “Mediatrix”? Surely the verse in 1 Timothy 2:5 makes it impossible for that title to be warranted. After all, if Jesus Christ is the one Mediator between God and man — a fact which Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church itself admits to be true when it says “the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix. This, however, is so understood that it neither takes away anything from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficacy of Christ the one Mediator” (Lumen Gentium 62) — then there is neither any place, nor any necessity for another mediator.

A: 1 Timothy 2:5 does indeed proclaim the fact that Jesus is the one Mediator between God and man, and this is certainly true, since he is the only God-man and thus the only possible Mediator in that sense. However, this does not exclude the idea of other people praying for us, whether in heaven or on earth. This is crystal clear if you read the four verses immediately preceding 1 Timothy 2:5. Together with verses 5 and 6 (so you can see the context) they state:

1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men,
2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.
3 This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,
4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time. (RSV)

You will note that verse 5 begins with the explanatory copula “For,” which connects it to the preverious statement (verse 4) that God desires all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. The truth which he desires men to come to a knowledge of and which will save them is stated in verses 5 and 6 — that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is the one way to approach God (not Buddha or Mohammed or Apollo or Jupiter or Ba’al), as he is the God-man who gave himself up as a ransom for our sins.

This saving knowledge (saving if it is embraced and acted upon, that is) is the thing which Paul urges us to promote in verses 1 and 2. He urges us to pray for everyone and lead godly lives so that people will be attracted to this saving truth.

The flow of his thought is thus that we should offer intercessory prayer for the salvation of all men (verse 1) and lead holy lives (verse 2) because this pleases God (verse 3) in part because it promotes his agenda of having people to come to a knowledge of the truth and be saved (verse 4), that knowledge consisting in the fact that there is one God (verse 5a) and that Jesus is the manner through which he must be approached (verse 5b) because it was Christ Jesus who died for us to atone for our sins (verse 6).

Thus Paul’s departure point for this whole discussion, the thing that sets the context for his discussion of Christ as the one Mediator (the one God-man) is the fact that we should pray for everyone. Thus the intercession of others is not in any way excluded by Christ’s Mediatorship. In fact, our prayers become efficacious because of Christ’s Mediatorship since we pray “in his name” (whether we use those words or not).

With this understanding of the difference between Christ as the exclusive God-man Redeemer/Mediator on the one hand and of the ability of other Christians to interceed for us on the other, the imagined difficulty is solved. Christ is the only Mediator in the sense that he is the only God-man, the only Person capable of redeeming us from our sins, however other people can mediate in the sense of offering intercessions. In fact, Scripture applies the very same Greek term for “mediator” that is used in 1 Timothy 2:5 to Moses in Galatians 3:19-20, where it speaks of the Mosaic covenant having been “ordained by angels [the angels God set over Israel during the Exodus] through a mediator [Moses].”

It is in the sense of being an intercessor that Mary is called a Mediatrix. In this she is the same as all other Christians who pray for others (in heaven or on earth), but due to her special role in God’s plan, having been chosen to be the mother of the infinite Son of God, her prayers have special efficacy. As James tells us, “the prayers of a righteous man availeth much” (Jas. 5:16), and Mary is as righteous as they come (of course, she is not a man, but James is using the term “man” in its gender-inclusive sense; the prayers of a righteous woman availeth much, too).

Having other Christians praying for you does not in any way diminish or impugn Christ’s mediation (or else Paul would never have ordered Christians to engage in intercessory prayer), and Mary, as the chief Christian, is no exception to this. In fact, it is because of Christ’s mediation that her prayers and our prayers have any effect at all. Christ and his death are the source of all graces, and if God graciously answers Mary’s prayers or ours, it is because of Christ. Mary prays, just like we do, “in the name of Christ.”

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